Coal in ‘Freefall’ Worldwide, Report Finds

by Nika Knight, staff writer

Common Dreams | 22 March, 2017

The coal industry is in “freefall” worldwide, the latest annual survey from environmental groups Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and CoalSwarm finds.

“The staggering uptick in clean energy and reduction in the new coal plant pipeline is even more proof that coal isn’t just bad for public health and the environment—it’s bad for the bottom line,” said Nicole Ghio, senior campaigner for the Sierra Club’s International Climate and Energy Campaign, in a statement. “Markets are demanding clean energy, and no amount of rhetoric from [President] Donald Trump will be able to stop the fall of coal in the U.S. and across the globe.”

The report (pdf) published Wednesday examined proposed and existing coal projects around the globe, discovering a huge drop “in all stages of coal plant development, including pre-construction planning, construction starts, and in-progress construction.”

According to the survey, new construction and coal plant permits in China and India have sharply dropped off, while aging coal plants were retired across the U.S. and Europe. (The U.S. saw its 250th coal plant retirement on Monday.)

“This has been a messy year, and an unusual one,” said Ted Nace, director of CoalSwarm, in a statement. “It’s not normal to see construction frozen at scores of locations, but central authorities in China and bankers in India have come to recognize overbuilding of coal plants is a major waste of resources. However abrupt, the shift from fossil fuels to clean sources in the power sector is a positive one for health, climate security, and jobs. And by all indications, the shift is unstoppable.”

“2016 marked a veritable turning point,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, senior global campaigner on Coal and Air Pollution at Greenpeace. “China all but stopped new coal projects after astonishing clean energy growth has made new coal-fired power plants redundant, with all additional power needs covered from non-fossil sources since 2013. Closures of old coal plants drove major emission reductions especially in the U.S. and U.K., while Belgium and Ontario became entirely coal-free and three G8 countries announced deadlines for coal phase-outs.”

The decline of coal has been felt for decades in places like rural West Virginia, and while Trump campaigned on a promise to revive the industry, the survey shows that its decline may be inevitable—while the market share of renewable energy, and potential for sustainable jobs in that sector, continues to rise.

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